Know the facts about ice safety this winter

Topics: Water Safety
January 10, 2014

Know the facts about ice safety this winter

When winter arrives, so do a lot of favourite holiday pastimes and seasonal sports. And some of the most popular just happen to take place on the ice, from casual ice skating with friends and family to pickup games of hockey. But as graceful or athletic as you may be on the ice, it's imperative that you keep safety in mind.

Before you head out on the ice
Water safety doesn't end just because the lakes and ponds have frozen over. Before you step out on the ice, you should know these facts: Different factors affect how thick ice gets, including the type of water, the location, the time of year and numerous environmental factors. The depth of the water or the size of the lake or pond are important, as are the potential for currents or tides, which could create ice floes.

Often, the colour of the ice indicates its strength. When it's a clear blue, it's at its strongest. White or snowy ice is only half as strong as blue ice, as a lot of what you're standing on is a mix of snow, which won't bear as much weight. Grey ice is entirely unsafe.

Typically, different thicknesses of ice are required for different activities. For instance, the ice should be 15 centimeters for walking or skating on your own. If it's a game of hockey or a group out on the ice, it should be at least 20 cm thick. For snowmobiles, a minimum of 25 cm is required.

In many areas, you can check with your local authorities before heading out onto public bodies of water. And never venture out onto the ice at night.

Ice emergencies
If you do find yourself in trouble out on the ice, there are a few pieces of advice you should follow, depending on if you're alone or with others.

If you've fallen in through the ice, call for help. Don't attempt to immediately climb back out. Instead, assume a floating position and reach forward, kicking your legs to push your body onto the ice. Once back on the ice, don't stand up, but gradually crawl or roll away from the area, spreading your arms and legs to evenly distribute your body weight.

If you see someone else fall through the ice, resist the urge to run out onto the ice where they were. Call for help, and attempt to perform a rescue from shore by extending a pole or branch to the individual.

The Canadian Red Cross is committed to water safety, even in the midst of winter. So keep this advice in mind when venturing out on the ice. And remember to read up on hypothermia as well. It's also important to wear a life jacket if your venture out on open water, any time of year.

Help spread the word about ice safety and donate to the Canadian Red Cross, one of the largest non-profit organizations in the country. You can also enroll in a Canadian Red Cross swimming program, to ensure you've got water safety covered for any season.